The English sentence

He must have been killed.

can mean two things:

(1) He is now dead. It is likely that he has been killed.

(2) He is alive. He deserves to be dead, but he isn't. (similar to "he should have been killed")

How would we express each of the meanings in German? My idea is

(1) Er muss getötet worden wären.

(2) Er hätte getötet werden müssen.

Is that correct?

Related: This question

  • 1
    Well it never means number 2, to begin with.
    – emaltman
    Jun 4, 2014 at 5:18
  • Are you sure about the second meaning? "He must be killed" sounds much more appropriate. I've never heard "He must have been killed." used in the (2) meaning. Jun 4, 2014 at 8:52

3 Answers 3


Using "müssen" in this capacity, i.e. expressing a likelihood, is not as established in German; I only know

muss wohl so sein

to be used in colloquial speech. What you are saying is

[I think] it's likely that he has been killed.

I would translate this as

Er wird [wohl] getötet worden sein.

or, if you don't want to introduce possible confusion with future tense,

Er ist wohl getötet worden.

"wohl" suggests the believe/likelihood here.


The first interpretation is just a variation of the more literal second one. In German it is no different. You'd use the same form.

Er muss getötet worden sein.

The obligation "muss" is in present, the "task" is in past-passive which is pretty contrived. Without further explanation most people would understand the first meaning.


My two cents:

  1. Er muss getötet worden sein. (Er war ja nicht krank und offensichtlich war es auch kein Selbstmord.)

  2. Er musste getötet werden. (Der arme alte Rocky war mehrmals im OP. Sein Tumor ließ ihn nicht einmahl gehen. Voll traurig.)

  • 2. "Er musste getötet werden." sounds better. Jun 4, 2014 at 14:36

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